“We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
There are two types of freedom: freedom from and freedom to. The first is based on a notion that there are certain things the government cannot force us to do. The second is the right to engage in speech, actions or activities that the same government cannot forbid. The funny thing is that these related concepts are often confused and interpreted in contradictory ways. Nowhere is this contradiction more evident than in the flippant use of the term “freedom” in the current political discourse.
In the midst of the worst days of the pandemic, and before the development of effective vaccines, the medical experts reached a consensus that wearing masks was a simple and cheap way to prevent the spread of the virus. And, although nobody likes doing so, most of us willingly complied. But common sense did not prevail, and many refused based on a distorted notion of “freedom from.” So the government stepped in, and many federal, state and local authorities mandated such use in many public settings, most prominently, restaurants, airplanes and schools. But the resisters resisted with a selfish and cynical response, blithely ignoring the rights of the compliant themselves to be free from the further spread of the disease through an easy and cheap, although mildly uncomfortable, solution.
But the resistance to masks was nothing compared to the opposition to effective and mostly safe vaccines, developed in a miraculously short period of time. This collective refusal allowed the virus to sicken and kill many more than it should have. Again the government intervened, compelled to require vaccinations for much of the populace who hid behind a perverse notion of freedom to oppose acting for their own and the common good. In this they have been aided and abetted by governors and legislatures in many states who passed laws and issued orders undercutting such mandates in the name of “individual freedom.”
Yet how ironic that the political forces behind this resistance are engaged in a race to the bottom to deprive the citizens of their states of individual rights that they don’t like, most notably, the freedom of women to make their own choices on pregnancy and of parents to pursue accepted medical practices in treating their transgender children. In case you missed the connection, essentially the same groups that cry “it’s my body,” when they refuse to be vaccinated, have no problem essentially proclaiming “it’s not your body” when you want to end a pregnancy or to treat your suffering child.
But, with each additional state that aims to virtually eliminate abortion, restrict reasonable public health measures or criminalize the treatment of transgender children, freedom becomes a matter of the moralistic impulses of self-righteous individuals who seem to believe that we are entitled to endanger the public health and use so-called religious beliefs to discriminate against groups or ideas they don’t like as a matter of individual rights.
If you listen to the debate in many state capitals these days, you would think that the worst threats we face in this country are having our daughters compete in track meets against transgender girls or having our kindergarteners learn that there are gay people in this country. If they need help in setting priorities, I can think of many more problems such as lack of health care or proliferation of guns that could use some attention.
Given all of this, you may ask, what is my own idea of freedom? That’s easy. To be free from idiocy.